Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

Is there a system of Confucian or CIT religious law?

Confucian tradition’s closest analogy to the kind of religious regulation important to Jews and Muslims, for example, are the canons of ritual. It may sound at first as though Confucian law is limited to what are sometimes called “rubrics.” Rubrics are instructions on how to perform a ceremony, that take their name from the Latin for “red” because the directions are printed in red ink to set them off from the liturgical text. But what Confucians mean by the canons of ritual actually includes an enormous range of human behavior. Here the Confucian scholars have codified ways of acting for every age and station in life, from members of the ordinary household, to the servant who prepares fruit for the emperor, to the emperor himself. These often elaborate and even somewhat theatrical stipulations might strike the outsider as extreme or downright compulsive. But the traditional interpretation is that a person of cultivated virtue will always act in such as way as to express precisely his or her relationship to those with whom he is dealing. In this way Confucian tradition preserved a definite social hierarchy still very much reflected in the formal language usage of Korea and Japan, as well as of China. Because of its unique relationship to the civil authority represented by the emperor, Confucianism as such, with its Five Classics and Four Books, did not develop a specific code of penal law. That was still largely the province of the Literati as royal administrators, but it emanated from the imperial household and developed over many centuries.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Religion Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App